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How to: Beans, Split Peas and Lentils

posted in Food, Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

Beans, split peas and lentils (often referred to as “pulses”) are the edible seeds of legume plants. They are a great low-fat source of protein and are high in fiber.

This post covers how to cook dried and canned pulses, and provides links to some great recipes.

Some beans go by several different names. For example the cannellini bean is also known as a white kidney bean and roman beans are also called cranberry beans, borlotti beans, shell beans, or Christmas beans. Many popular beans, like black beans, cannellini beans, red beans and chick peas can be bought in cans already cooked.

The way that you cook dried beans is very different from the way you cook split peas and lentils – it’s all about soaking.

Split peas and lentils do not require soaking. They take a short amount of time to cook (about 20 minutes to 1 hour depending on the recipe). Dried beans on the other hand, do require soaking for at least 4 hours. (It is best to soak them overnight. )

Types of Beans and How to Use Them in Your Cooking

  • Beans, such as Roman beans, red beans, cannellini beans, and black beans, (all shown above) are sold dried in bags that can be stored up to a year in the cupboard, or in the freezer. As noted above, dried beans have to be soaked in water for several hours or overnight before they can be used.
  • To soak beans overnight, use 3 cups of water for every cup of beans and soak at room temperature. Then, strain the beans with a colander, discarding the soaking water. For a faster soak, try boiling the beans in the water for two minutes, then letting them stand for one hour. Another option is to microwave the (covered) beans and water for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Some packaged beans have been pre-soaked: they’re typically labelled “quick-cooking”. Pre-soaked beans will take one to three hours to cook, depending on the kind of bean. Follow the package directions for stove-top cooking times.
  • Using a pressure cooker cuts down cooking time significantly. Here’s a chart that shows how long it takes to cook various kinds of beans in a pressure cooker. Some take less than 10 minutes to cook!
  • Canned beans are a great timesaver: they’ve already been cooked. Some canned beans have unnecessarily high levels of sodium, though, so check the nutrition information. To use canned beans, drain and rinse them, then add them to salads, rice, pasta or couscous dishes. You can also add them to cooked dishes like soups and stews.
  • The Mayo Clinic provides a handy reference chart for various types of beans and their uses.

How to Soak Split Peas for Cooking (also called field peas)

These are dried peas that have been mechanically split along a natural seam, so that they cook faster. You can buy either green or yellow split peas. Either color can be used to make split pea soup. There are tons of variations and ways to make split-pea soup your own. (’s Split Pea Soup has chunks of turkey kielbasa in it.)

Startcooking’s gree Split Pea Soup

It is not necessary to soak split peas, but they do require rinsing and sorting.

Split peas take 30 to 45 minutes to cook.

Getting your Lentils Ready for Cooking

  • Lentils take less time to cook than beans or split peas, typically around 25 minutes.
  • Dried lentils don’t require soaking, but they do require sorting and rinsing. Once you’ve measured the amount of lentils you need, put them in a strainer and sift through them with your fingers, looking for grit or small stones. Then run water over the lentils until it’s clear.

    Cooked Lentils
  • Canned lentils are available, but you may find their texture too mushy. They’re fine if you’re using them in a soup or stew, but may be too mushy to use alone or in a salad.

Some of the various kinds of lentils are:

  • French Green lentils (Du Puy lentils): These are prized for their texture; they retain their shape and texture better than other varieties, so they’re great to use in salads or side dishes.
  • Red: These actually turn yellow when cooked. They are good in soups, particularly Indian dahl soup.
  • Brown: These are often available in cans. They’re best in soups, because of their tendency to go mushy.

How to Use Beans, Lentils and Split Peas

  • Cooked beans and lentils are versatile, and although they have different flavors and textures, they can often be used interchangeably in recipes.
  • In general, beans and lentils can be used as a topping on vegetable salads, or to add texture to rice, couscous or pasta salads. This substantial Tex Mex Bean Salad,

    containing three kinds of beans and corn, makes a colorful side that works with many main dishes. No cooking required!

  • Beans add texture to chunky soups or creaminess to smooth soups. You can enjoy the best of both worlds with this Mixed Bean and Vegetable Soup, (video) which gets partially pureed. Another option is Tuscan Bean Soup,

    a chunky soup that calls for chickpeas, cannellini beans and kidney beans (or three cans of whatever beans that you like).

  • Beans are a great, non-fat base for dips. We’re familiar with hummus, made from pureed chickpeas. You can also make delicious, creamy dips with black beans or white beans. Check out this Spicy Bean Dip, which calls for refried beans and salsa.
  • Chili is another dish that always has beans in it;’s Santa Fe Chili (video) calls for kidney beans, pinto beans and black beans.
  • This recipe for Bowties with Beef and Beans is a healthy, one-pot dinner that calls for great northern beans.

  • Pinch My Salt gives us Black Beans and Corn with Green Chilies, a dead-easy, healthy and colorful side dish.
  • Meet me in the Kitchen offers two easy versions of Red Lentil Soup.
  • This Split Pea Soup with Cabbage is great with Polish rye bread.

Ways to Improve Digestion of Beans and other Pulses:

Beans are healthy, economical and tasty, but the fact is that they contain complex sugars that our bodies can’t digest. This can result in bloating and flatulence (gas).

  • If you’re not in the habit of eating beans, start slowly and build up to bigger amounts. This will allow your body to get used to digesting them.
  • Cooking beans for a long period of time, and cooking them with fennel seeds, ginger or fresh coriander (cilantro) may reduce the gas factor.
  • Soaking dried beans overnight will help.
  • There’s a product called Beano that can be taken (in pill or liquid form) before eating beans (and vegetables in general) to prevent gas.
  • In general, eat slowly and chew your food well.

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frugalscholar said:

See my recent blog post on lentils, rice, and caramelized onions–it sounds plain, but is sooooo good!

For that and other frugal thoughts:

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks Frugal Scholar! Topping your recipe off with yogurt is an interesting addition – I’ll have to give it a try!


Snow Wolf said:

Hardly any mention of the pinto bean at all, they are the most common bean in North America.


I grew up on them so they are my favorite.

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Snow Woolf,
Yes you are right, pinto beans are a very popular bean, used in making refried beans and chili and tons of other recipes as well!

For those unfamiliar with the pinto bean, the dried beans are beige with brown streaks, but they turn a uniform pinkish-brown when cooked.


Susan said:

I was looking for a great bean salsa for my husbands upcoming birthday party. Love the internet and instant information.

Kathy Maister said:

So true Susan! I just love being on the internet but sometimes it feels like my keyboard is just about permanently attached to my wrist! :-)

Brittany said:

What about the great northern beans? I didnt see anything about them and am looking for a recipe to make with them.

startcooking said:

Hi Brittany,
Great Northern beans are smaller than cannellinis and suitable for uses in salads, soups and stews.
Google great northern beans recipes and you will find quite a few options.

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